‘Breakfast roll man is back, big time’ in Cavan
Rural Renewal: trade is starting to look up again in Virginia
The breakfast roll is back in demand in Virginia, Co Cavan. “Oh, the breakfast roll man is back, big time,” says Peter Skelly whose family opened a new Costcutter shop in the town in December. “You’d really notice it. Business is great.”
Local people notice increased early morning traffic as people get back to work and they talk about the reappearance of trucks on the roads around Virginia.
While some small towns are struggling to hold on to their shops, the Skellys are already planning to extend their offering by opening a bakery to go with the deli. The shop on the main street opens from 6am to 10pm and Judy Skelly says the demand is there. It helps to be opposite the bus stop in this commuter town, which is less than an hour from Dublin now by road.
The Skellys, who already own a shop in Ballyjamesduff, also opened a 17-room B&B during the summer. Weekends are booked out, and trade is brisk. “Business is great, thank God,” Judy says.
Virginia wasn’t immune to the recession. Shops closed, it lost a bank and the main street was looking gloomy for a while, but there is a consensus that it is starting to bounce back. Unlike some towns, the main street still feels like the town centre when you drive into the town. Tellingly, the town doesn’t have a Lidl or an Aldi, although the latter is actively seeking a site there, according to its website.
Virginia, though, has a few weapons in its armoury. Location, location location, says auctioneer Fintan Cahill. “From a housing point of view, it’s the first town in Cavan that you meet when you’re coming from Dublin. When you move further into Cavan, there is still a lot of property available at very manageable money, but it’s a bit harder to coax people that 10- or 15-minute drive further.”
Cahill also points to several new developments. “Virginia is lucky because we’ve a health centre that got an extension to it; we have a national school with an extension and Richard Corrigan bought the Park Hotel and that’s brought a bit of a buzz around the place.”
Many people say the celebrity chef’s arrival is as a positive sign. He bought the 18th-century country estate last December and renamed it Virginia Park Lodge, explains wedding and event manager Deirdre Corrigan. It is not yet clear how many jobs it will provide but she says the events it hosts will determine the employment it can give locally.
Virginia’s other major asset is its agricultural show and the people who run it. It held its 73rd event on August 20th which attracted some 15,000 people to the town.
This is where the real energy of the community lies. Virginia has a population of 2,282, according to Census 2011, 200 of whom are involved in running the show. They don’t confine themselves to the show though. Back in the late 1950s, the show committee fretted about the lack of a second-level school in the town.
“Because there was no secondary school, people were going to England and America in the 1950s without any skills and it was felt they needed a vocational school,” recalls Kathleen Duffy, a stalwart of the show committee.
Instead of waiting for the State to provide one, the Virginia Show Society built a vocational school with the help of money raised from the show dances. The society handed the school over to the Department of Education in 1962 and it opened with 58 pupils. Today, renamed Virginia College, it can take 800 pupils.
A few years ago, the committee fretted again, this time about the lack of a community centre. So again, the society took matters into its own hands. The €1 million Virginia Show Centre opened earlier this summer in the showgrounds, thanks to a €500,000 grant from Cavan-Monaghan Leader Group and funds raised locally.
The town also runs a pumpkin festival which attracted 20,000 enthusiasts at Halloween, and just outside the town, its new €300,000 marina development opened on the shores of Lough Ramor last November.
Kathleen Duffy doesn’t think Virginia’s community spirit is unique. “I think when the bad times came, people went back to their community more,” she says.
The centre’s chairman Eamonn O’Connell says the town was knocked sideways by the recession, like many other rural towns. “At one stage the town looked pretty desolate. The bank was gone. A number of businesses had closed. It was terrible coming into the town but people felt they had to come together and do something about it. Hopefully there will be people employed in this centre in years to come and it will help in tourism and other areas.”
Cahill was one of those local people helping out at the recent Virginia Show. He was a steward on the Balieborough Road and was “astonished” at the number of gravel lorries, blocks and concrete on the move.
“All that stuff had disappeared off the roads for the past four or five years. There’s a good bit of activity around the town. The problem we have now is product. It’s hard to come across larger detached properties in Virginia. There’s literally nothing to rent now in the town. A lot of the properties that were for sale have been occupied from a rental perspective and they are selling now.”
Local dairy farmer Owen Brodie says agriculture should get credit for helping to keep the town afloat in the bad times. Farming is the backbone of Virginia and provides a lot of employment on the land and in the form of companies such as Glanbia.
“Agriculture went through a serious recession in the early Noughties when the rest of the country was booming,” he says, “so we had a lot of belt-tightening to do. And then we had our own little boom when the recession came.”
Electrician Martin Lynch also feels things are changing. He has noted the families moving out of Dublin to rent in Virginia. “You’d pay €500 or €600 for a three- or four-bedroom house here, whereas it’s €1,200, I hear, in Dublin, or maybe more? So there are a lot of families renting here from Dublin and I’d say they’ll buy eventually, so that will be good.”
He thinks it will take another year before the town completely hits its stride, “but definitely a lot of the vacant houses in the village are sold now and that will bring its own business. We’ll start getting small jobs again, fixing this and that.”
Cahill has also seen a demand for houses from expats in their 50s or 60s, living in Britain and farther afield and looking to buy small detached properties around the town. “They haven’t actually moved back but they’re ready to move back.” And it looks like Virginia will be ready for them.